There’s no school like the old school. At least that’s the philosophy at Caffè Sicilia, where everything from the chequered floors and the gold detailing on the monogrammed glasses, plates and saucers to the accents on the white-jacketed waiters seems as if it has been lifted straight from Syracuse and teleported, inexplicably, to upper Crown Street. Yai, the sprawling Thai restaurant that was here before, is long gone, its som tums and pad krapows replaced by eggplant parm ($12) and pasta alla Norma ($15). In true Italian bar style, Sicilia has a case full of pastries on one side of the room and a full bar along another wall, catering equally to the iced-espresso-and-ricotta-cake crowd as it does those in need of more savoury sustenance bolstered with booze .
The drinks list is sizeable, interesting and punctuated by surprises such as the prosciutto-infused Bloody Mary ($14). The menu, though, is straighty-180 Sicilian, whether you’re talking the tuna, lettuce and tomato panino ($9) or the fried calamari and onions ($20). Potato frittata ($10) is a golden omelette of shredded taties splodged with a sour cream-like fresh cheese. It could be breakfast, it could be an antipasto; either way it works. Pasta al forno ($15) “Palermo-style” translates he
re to a baked, very tomatoey cake of eggplant and pasta, like what some Italians call a timballo. That pasta, you’ll be delighted to learn, is
a shape we’d call “spaghetti-Os” if we weren’t so cultured. It is, in a word, robust.
Falsomagro ($20), one straight from Sicily’s greatest hits collection, looks just right, the thin slice of veal wrapped around a hard-boiled egg and sauced with peperonata, the island’s classic stewed peppers number. It’s not, however, tender or clear enough in its flavours that you’d race to order it again. The same, pretty much, can be said for the involtini de pescespada ($20) – swordfish stuffed with breadcrumbs, parsley and peanuts. It’s tender enough, but there’s an undifferentiated smooshy beigeness to it that just isn’t compelling. The side salad of thoroughly cooked green beans ($10) accessorised with a sizeable slice of gooey, pongy stracchino cheese is a bit more like it.
But don’t let that put you off Caffè Sicilia. The place has considerable charm, the prices aren’t outrageous (even if there’s not that much food on the plate) and the details – the little doily-covered glass plate they bring your cannoli ($8) on, or the street-style paper cone that holds the oddly attractive spinach fritters ($10) – are note-perfect tradizionale Siciliana. Even as you walk out the door, you find yourself considering a return visit to check out the veal cotolette with caponata ($18) or the mortadella and provolone sandwich ($9). Not to mention that prosciutto Bloody Mary.